Canary Island Ivy

MY BROTHER Bill gave me a large Canary Island Ivy as a house plant about 25 years ago. In a few years it had outgrown its corner in my studio and I planted it out by the larch-lap fence behind the greenhouse. It had survived for twenty winters, providing a nest site for Blackbirds and Song Thrushes, but last winter proved too much for it.

I’m not sure now whether the larch-lap fence is supporting the twisting stems of the ivy or whether the ivy is holding up the fence. The main stem is the thickness of a man’s arm. The spreading vines twist around like an untidy version of Celtic knotwork. Although it’s evident that they won’t sprout again, I’m not in a hurry to cut back the plant back as it’s now such an attractive subject to draw; more so than when it was just a wall of foliage.

Besides, as I started to draw and moved an old post that had been leaning by the fence, a Blackbird flew out in alarm. I’m aware that a pair has been nesting in the mass of dead ivy stems and foliage that juts out above the corner of the fence.

Canary Island Ivy, Hedera canariensis, is a native of the Azores and Canary Islands and is less hardy than our native Ivy, Hedera helix. The popular house plant variety that I planted here on the fence and on our garden shed – where it also died back this winter – was Gloire de Marengo which has large variagated leaves, with green centres and creamy white margins. Our native ivy is still looking fine although a late frost a couple of weeks ago killed some of the young sappy spring shoots. They looked as if they had been individually scorched.

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